Unless I’m out to dinner, or unless there’s a birthday to celebrate, there’s not much room in my life right now for high-concept food. I love the idea of mashed potato ghosts for Halloween, and the artisanal Mallomars that came with the check at last weekend’s anniversary dinner was definitely good for a giggle. Even if it hadn’t been recorded in my dinner diary, the “ice cream cone” starter I had at the French Laundry in 1998 — a masterfully tiny homemade wafer cone filled with creme fraiche and topped with salmon tartare “sprinkles” — will stay with me for a long time. But you guys know us by now. You know that, for the most part, our default mode is simple, un-fussy meals that are fresh, can be put together fast, and don’t require any winking when served. (Any one getting flashbacks here of Charles Grodin and his “honest” dinner in The Heartbreak Kid?) But every now and then, an idea presents itself that I’d be crazy not to try. Last week Phoebe reminded me that I had been promising meatballs on the family dinner table and had somehow failed to deliver. At the same time, in the same breath, Abby reminded me that I had been promising Chicken Parm (page 148 in my book) on the family dinner table and had somehow failed to deliver. In an attempt to remedy my staggeringly deprived children as well as cut off any sibling tussling at the pass, I decided to please them both with a single high-concept, low-maintenance meatball meal. “It’s like Chicken Parm married Meatballs and had a baby,” I told them, before wondering why on earth I would ever open up such a weird concept with an 8- and 10-year-old. Well, either way, King Solomon would’ve been proud.
Chicken Parm Meatballs
This makes 12 large-ish meatballs. My best self would’ve let the meatballs freeze at this point you see above (after initial 15-minute bake) then frozen them for future Tumultuous Tuesday use, on which day, my best self would’ve transferred the frozen meatballs to the fridge in the morning, then heated them up in a 350°F oven for 15 minutes (before proceeding with broiling) upon her return later that night. While she was at it, my best self would’ve also ordered all the Halloween costumes and thrown away the sad, dried-out mums in the backyard that have been there since last fall and that perennially remind her of her worst self.
1 1/4 pounds ground chicken
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/2 cup Pecorino (or Parm)
salt to taste
pepper to taste
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 egg, whisked
zest of half a lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 14-ounce can storebought pizza sauce (such as Don Pepino’s)
about 4 ounces fresh mozzarella (a dozen thin slices; to pile on the cheese would be to cancel out the fact that you were virtuous enough to replace fatty beef with lean chicken)
Preheat oven to 400°F, setting rack to upper third part of oven. In a large bowl, using your hands, gently mix together first 11 ingredients. Shape into lacrosse-ball size balls (that would be somewhere between golf and tennis) and place a few inches from each other on a foil-lined baking sheet. In a small bowl, mix one spoonful of your pizza sauce with olive oil. Brush this mixture on top of each meatball. Bake for 15 minutes.
Remove meatballs from oven, spoon some sauce on top of each meatball, and cover each with a slice of cheese. Broil another 3 to 5 minutes until cheese is bubbly and golden. Heat remaining sauce in a small saucepan. Serve meatballs with a dollop of sauce and a raw Tuscan kale salad that has been shredded and tossed with shallots, Pecornio, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Meanwhile, how much do I love this review of Dinner: A Love Story from Food52? My favorite quote: “Rosenstrach’s book and blog are something very rare in the genre of family dinner: they inspire neither homicidal nor suicidal impulses.”